The Mena Lions Club hosted Chris Colclasure, Director of the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, recently to hear more about Polk County’s natural areas and the unique creatures that inhabit them.
There are 79 endemic species in Arkansas, meaning they are specific to the state, and 20 of those live in the Ouachitas. Rich Mountain is home to a two-foot long earthworm called Diplocardia meansi and streams in the area house Fourche Mountain salamanders that are only found in Polk and Scott Counties. Colclasure said that it takes just the right temperature and moisture to sustain the salamanders and worms, and Polk County is just the right fit. “Rainfall patterns and geology determine what happens here and what lives here,” he said.
There are also many birds that are found only in this area and they bring in avid birders from across the country that are itching to capture sight of them. Colclasure explained that birders bring in millions of dollars to Arkansas’ economy each year.
The area has some endangered species as well such as the Red-cockaded Woodpecker that lives in live pine trees that are softened by hardwood rot. The Leopard Darter is a threatened fish species that lives in the creeks of Polk County. The Northern Long-Eared Bat is another threatened species that calls the area home, as well as the threatened Arkansas Fatmucket, a mussel found in mountainous streams.
“Rare species don’t adapt well and require specific conditions,” said Colclasure. He added that is why the area has such unique species. “Most of the time, mountain tops get dryer the higher you go. That’s not the case on Rich Mountain and the rest of the Ouachitas. They stay moist.”
Arkansas is a diverse natural state with Polk County being in the center of the highest bio-diverse area. “We don’t realize how fortunate we are in Arkansas. We are the only state that has an elk permit and an alligator permit… that’s pretty unique,” said Colclasure. To learn more about Arkansas’ unique natural heritage, visit www.naturalheritage.com.